Shortly after Rand Paul’s talking filibuster unexpectedly seized national attention, Bill Kristol came back with his normal comedy routine. The junior senator from Kentucky was dismissed as an emblem of “kookiness” and “fearmongering,” “waxing semihysterical” as a “spokesman for the Code Pink faction of the Republican party.”
John McCain and Lindsey Graham were Kristol’s opening act. McCain grumbled about “wacko birds” and the dang libertarian kids who need to get off his lawn. Graham dismissed Paul’s questions about the limits of presidential power as undeserving of a response, in keeping with his now-infamous quotation, “Shut up, you don’t get a lawyer!”
But for the first time in a long time, the GOP rank-and-file wasn’t laughing along. Redstate.com editor and conservative commentator Erick Erickson asked if McCain and Graham simply resented Paul and his Republican allies for generating more media attention.
The top two Republicans in the Senate and the chairman of the Republican National Committee weighed in to support Paul. The National Republican Senatorial Committee was quick to try and capitalize for fundraising purposes, as did various Tea Party groups.
No less a barometer of conservative opinion than Rush Limbaugh stated flatly, “The neocons are paranoid.” Someone soon called in from Ventura, California, and added that McCain owed Paul a public apology.
“I’m calling about Lindsey Graham and John McCain,” the caller told Rush. “I am really ticked off as a veteran the way John McCain and Lindsey Graham have basically sold out somebody that they should have supporting.”
To be sure, some opportunists hopped aboard the “I Stand with Rand” bandwagon. Relatively few of the Republican senators who joined the filibuster had expressed much concern about drones before, and some had voted for legislation that could be construed as friendly to the drone status quo.
Many were happy to watch a Republican win a messaging war with the Democratic administration, as the Obama administration mostly backed down from a public fight.
But suddenly those who were in the position, as recently as the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings, to read “unpatriotic conservatives” out of the party were themselves being derided as RINOs.